Food Trucks At Farms Bring More Questions Than Answers

Stephen J. Kotz
The Pike food truck on the grounds of the Open Minded Organics farm on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton.

To Rachel Verno and Thomas Addison, one food truck is one too many.

The pair addressed the South-ampton Town Board July 9 with a slew of concerns about legislation that would allow food trucks associated with local restaurants to be parked at pre-existing farm stands.

“No one can possibly think it’s appropriate to introduce an additional business that would generate more traffic onto the back roads and forever change the rural character of the community,” said Verno, a resident of Water Mill, speaking for herself and not the Citizens Advisory Committee of which she is the chairwoman. “Obviously, not every farm stand is going to choose to have a food truck, but you’re crafting a code change that has to anticipate for the worst-case scenario.”

Verno said there’s five farm stands near her home — from David Whites Lane to the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike alone.

“That’s a lot of potential locations for food trucks,” she said, adding that while she is also concerned for the farmers and other local businesses, residents need to be taken into consideration as well. “I recognize the popularity — how great they are to showcase local produce, chefs, restaurants — but they’re not in residential areas for good reason,” she said. “A notification process to get an accurate read of the impact on residents should be considered. I think most would have a problem with this.”

Thomas Addison, a Bridgehampton resident who lives next door to Open Minded Organics on Butter Lane, didn’t have theoretical projections but real-life accounts. The 16-year resident has seen a fully-operational food truck, The Pike, parked at his neighboring farm stand since the spring. He said there are signs at the location — open seven days a week early morning to sundown — and down the block advertising the business, a “comfort food” menu board posted out front, and tables and chairs for patrons.

“Let me tell you, it ain’t pretty,” Addison said. “There’s added trash — the bins are overflowing, which creates unsanitary conditions, a potential health hazard, and an increase in the number of rodents; a noise nuisance from the generator; encroachment, with cars parking on my lawn; and overcrowding.”

“I urge you to consider the consequences of any amendments to the town code that will allow for these vehicles. From what I am witnessing, these food trucks are an unwanted annoyance,” Addison added. “The rural character we have here provides residents with a level of peace and quiet not found in other areas that may be near commercial streets.”

While the issue was adjourned until the August 23 town board meeting, with sponsor Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera potentially making changes to the draft legislation, David McLean, a Water Mill resident, believes the issues residents brought up could be fixed by limiting where the food trucks can be. He said more needs to be done to help farmers.

“I think food trucks are an advantage to the consuming public,” he said. “They are helpful to farm stands, which sell produce for home use or immediate use on a food truck.”

Mike Charrier, chairman of the town Architectural Review Board, said enforcing signage laws has been a big issue, with many food truck owners thinking they’re exempt.

“Some of them are garish, because they want to attract attention,” he said. “Is there something we can do?”

Councilman John Bouvier also believes the matter comes down to enforceability, a main concern he has with the law, on top of the opportunity to abuse it.

“Enforcement is already a problem, because this is a big town,” he said. “I want to protect the residents, but on the other hand, I absolutely get the need for farmers to find a way to practice their craft and take advantage of changes to how our town is visited to benefit their businesses.”

Bouvier said he still doesn’t understand the scope of what the drafted legislation means — whether it’s five trucks, 15, or 100.

“That would help me better wrap my head around this,” he said. “But it’s also very hard to pull back something once it’s out there.”

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said many details still need to be pinned down to see if this revision to the town code can be considered, knowing whether or not a restaurant has to be closed when a food truck is in operation, like it already states in the town code; if bathrooms or a place for patrons to wash their hands needs to be mandated; how to ensure proper entrance and exits; parking; and a host of others.

Assistant Town Attorney Kathryn Garvin said as with the town board, the Agricultural Advisory Committee could not come to a consensus on the topic, saying the issue seems site-specific.

“Some supported it for pre-existing farm stands, others to all, and some didn’t like it at all,” she said. “It’s a policy issue for the board. They’ve come to a consensus the farmers are struggling — they know hours for employees have been cut, and there needs to be creative ways for them to reinvest.”

Some members on the agricultural committee thought limiting the days or hours, or only allowing food trucks on farms with a certain acreage should be considered. Others thought farmers could choose the days and times that would suit them, but Garvin mentioned implementation of that being problematic.

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town needs to approach the issue with caution, and sided with Addison and Verno in that defending the pastoral charm of the East End is important.

“I’ve spent so much of my life trying to protect that rural character, and open space and farming is such a big piece of the rural character. If we had this proliferation of food trucks at all these farm stands it could feel very different out here,” Schneiderman said. “I certainly understand and want to make sure that the farmers can survive. It seems like there has to be a way to supplement their income in a way that compliments the aesthetic rather than detract from it.”

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